Relevant TEKS: US History 2D, 7A-F, 17A, 19B; World History 12B&C, 28C
The Pearl Harbor attacks by the Imperial Japanese Navy caught thousands of young men and women off guard on a quiet Sunday morning. Some people were off base, some were sleeping in, a few were at church, but their lives were all changed when the attacks started. It was a tactical victory for the Japanese Empire, but didn't accomplish the goals of completely destroying the US Navy or keeping the United States out of the war.
It's an important event, not just because it directly led to the United States entering World War II, but because there is a very human face to this attack. Over 2400 Americans were killed with many more injured. This is one of the few attacks that have ever been conducted against the United States on our soil and one of the most deadly. The resulting entrance into WWII jump started industry in the US and helped pull us out of the depression.
Emphasizing the human side of conflict and going beyond the numbers creates fantastic opportunities for discussion in our classrooms. What does that mean? It means also seeking to understand why the Japanese Empire attacked in the first place. Was it because the US supplied a significant amount of the steel used to build the Japanese Imperial Military in the first place? Was it because Japan, as an island nation, had to expand because they needed resources and land to support their large military and population? Was it because the Japanese concluded that conflict was inevitable and attacking first was the best choice?
The fact that the Pearl Harbor attacks happened is something that most students know, but rarely do we discuss the Japanese Internment on the west coast. Why did the US government decide that it was constitutional to forcibly relocating Japanese Americans into camps just in case one of them was a spy? Was it because Isoroku Yamamoto studied at Harvard University before leaving and planning the Pearl Harbor attacks some 20 years later? Was Yamamoto the bad guy we portray him as even though he was vocally against the war in the first place?
These are all areas of discussion that students find much more interesting than the nuts and bolts we tend to recycle when we talk about Pearl Harbor.
The most successful way I've discussed Pearl Harbor is showing the similarities to 9/11 and the resulting government actions in retaliation. Drawing parallels to the present day War on Terror also helps make this event that happened over seventy years ago very real to the students of today. Try it out. Most of us are reviewing anyway since STAAR is starting today. It could be worth your while to take 10-15 minutes to talk about a life changing event in United States History.
Pearl Harbor Survivor Eyewitness Account
Dallas Teachers talking about 9/11
Dallas Teachers talking about Paris Terrorist Attacks